Admittedly, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of buying a shiny, new electronic device. You get to play with all the features, you know you’re fully upgraded and trendy (for today) and sometimes the slick new design of the device is just fun to look at. It’s like the adult version of getting to pick out a new toy from Toys-R-Us after earning a good report card.
Yet every time you get a new e-device and trash the old one, you’re contributing to the mountain of e-waste we’re generating
each and every year. The common number floating around right now is 41.8 million tons of globally produced e-waste in 2014. And that’s roughly a 24 percent increase from 2010’s 33.8 million tons. Plus, the amount of global e-waste is expected to climb to 49.8 million tons in 2018. That’s a lot of e-waste.
Luckily, there is a way to curb the e-waste crisis without renouncing our electronic overloads in favor of a simpler life of eating twigs and mud in the woods. And it’s a simple solution: repairing devices, buying used and donating devices.
Think repair before despair
Today’s devices come with the unwritten assumption built in that when a device goes bad, it’s time to replace it. Modern e-device designs even make them look impossible to take apart, given the lack of even so much as a traditional battery latch and cover and the addition of overly specific screws on some devices
. Plus, many parts are proprietary, so these device parts can be hard, if not seemingly impossible, to find.
But that hasn’t stopped iFixit from offering a complete online resource
for repairing your own device, written by others who have been there and done that. IFixit even offers Teardowns
of all the latest devices, assessing each component and offering a reparability score. If you want to get into the world of electronic repair, this is a great resource to use before even buying a new device. Plus, those hard-to-find parts? IFixit offers many of them for purchase on its online store
Yet in the world of e-devices, sometimes you just need to upgrade and can’t get around that fact. So how do you do that sustainably?
Sometimes there are perfectly good reasons for getting a new device. Maybe the device is so old it’s no longer compatible with new software or maybe you dropped it off a cliff by mistake.
One solution is to tap into the used market. It cuts back on the amount of new devices that require more natural resources to make. People usually go through re-sellers on eBay, Craigslist or Swappa. Lifehacker has a good guide
on how to safely buy a used phone, which usually needs the most frequent updates and replacing.
A common issue is making sure the device isn’t stolen. Horror stories abound about paying $650 for a phone, and then the device is flagged for being stolen and service is suspended. Going through reputable, high-ranked sellers on Swappa or eBay can mitigate that risk. If you’re going through Craigslist, make sure to tread lightly and use common sense (if it looks fishy, it is). You might also consider buying a used device through a trusted friend.
For buying a used phone online, start the process by looking for the average prices across the common selling platforms to know what the device generally goes for. Make sure the device is not locked, which will make the price appear lower. When you find a seller, you should ideally meet in person so you can check over the device. Bring anything that plugs into the phone.
Look over the device carefully and run several checks. You’ll want to make sure the phone is free of physical damage like scratches and water damage. There’s a good video on how to check for physical and water damage on a phone here
. Open any covers to make sure those work. Check the ports by pugging in your headphones, charger, etc. Put your SIM card (and a microSD card, if applicable) into the device and play around by making calls, texting and surfing the web.
You’ll also need to think beyond the physical phone. Run a service code test, which you’ll need to look up for each device. That can tell you what’s running on the phone. You’ll also need to run a check on a phone’s ESN/IMEI/MEID number to make sure the phone can be activated and used. You can learn all about those numbers here
. There’s a free check-over at Swappa
Much of this advice also applies to other devices, like laptops. Make sure to give the device a complete physical check, meet the seller in person, do a test run and make sure you have the keys and codes to any licensed software.
But what if you really need a new device or don’t want to risk the used market?
Donating a device
There’s no shame in getting a new device if you go about it intelligently. The important thing to keep in mind is the function of the device. The Simple Dollar has a great guide
on making sure you REALLY need that new device. The key is to look at the upgrade from a task-oriented perspective. If your current device really isn’t cutting it, and that new device has features you need to accomplish your goals in life, it’s time to buy new. Remember to look at NEED, not the “bells and whistles” extras that you figure you might use someday.
If you decide you need to buy new, always make sure to recycle that old device. The EPA has a comprehensive list
covering manufacturers and retailers that have e-recycling programs. Also, don’t forget to look into any possible municipal programs, local e-waste recycling organizations or nonprofits that could use the direct donations of functioning electronics. Just remember to securely wipe your data if you go the direct donation route.